Video Games Need a Mechanical Complexity Slider, Not A Difficulty Slider

Video Games Need a Mechanical Complexity Slider, Not A Difficulty Slider

The following post is this author’s opinion and does not reflect the thoughts and feelings of Fextralife as a whole nor the individual content creators associated with the site. Any link that goes outside of Fextralife are owned by their respective authors.

Video games today are doing it all wrong. Instead of the increasing prevalence of difficulty sliders, they should instead be using what I term a mechanical complexity slider. This may not be self-explanatory, so let me explain.

A mechanical complexity slider (which I’m abbreviating as MCS from now on) is like a difficulty slider, but less “crap”. It does what it says it does: raises or lowers the number of enemy boss mechanics, enabling and disabling certain enemy moves, patterns and steps necessary to expose enemy weakpoints. The idea came from complaining about how much I hate it when games have a New Game+ mode that’s actually different than the first playthrough, because it makes the entire first playthrough feel like an extremely long tutorial and a complete waste of time before I get to play the game as it was meant to be played, and from thinking about how difficulties work for raids in MMOs.

The whole idea is, instead of asking players what difficulty level they want to play on before they even start the game when they can’t possibly know what the difficulty settings actually mean, you present them with gameplay and ask them what they want to commit to. You start the game with a tutorial and a few sample encounters that are representative of the kind of encounters to be had in the game, and you have the player play through the encounter on the “standard” setting, making sure to detail the mechanics to the player in some way. At the end, not that the player has context for what the options might mean, a menu pops up. This menu details the mechanics of the encounters they just went through, and offers several alternative settings, with “lower” settings detailing what mechanics would be disabled, and “higher” settings detailing what mechanics will be added, as well as offering the player the option to replay any/all of the previous encounters at whatever setting they wish to better understand how the changes will impact gameplay. The point is to make the game more or less complicated for more or less skilled/dedicated players and provide context to understand what the options mean.

As a for example and not advocacy, but if we apply this concept to Dark Souls, then you would play the tutorial and fight a boss or 2, then get the menu with the MCS detailing what mechanics were in those fights and what would change at various settings, along with the option to replay sections or the whole thing at various difficulties. The changes could include things like whether you can be guard broken, how many phases the bosses have, so maybe on a lower setting the crystal sages never summon the copies, or summon fewer of them, whether or not you’re allowed to warp between bonfires and which attacks enemies use and how often. So in the instance of the sage, maybe on a higher setting they cast more often or use more dangerous spells more often. Also there is no more need tho hide stuff in NG+, you just restrict it to higher levels on the MCS which means people can experience it on their first playthrough if they would like.


It’s obviously not a 1 size fits all solution and I know some games like MMO’s have at least parts of this idea, but I think it would be a major improvement over, or at the very least a good addition to, traditional difficulty settings. Literally the worst idea anyone has ever had? Someone has been doing it since 1973 and I just never noticed? Best thing ever? Ways to improve the concept? Let me know in the comments!

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20 something years old, living in the western United States. I enjoy wrestling, jujitsu, snowboarding, manga, anime, movies, card games, board games, video games D&D, ect. Also food.

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10 comments on “Video Games Need a Mechanical Complexity Slider, Not A Difficulty Slider”

  1. Avatar Lich180 says:

    Reading this made me think of how Nioh has handled NG+. In Nioh, you play through the game, learning mechanics. This is Way of the Samurai.Your player skill matters more here, as the gear you get doesn’t get good until NG+. NG+, called Way of the Strong, gives you access to divine gear and more upgrade options. By the time you finish NG+, you can pretty much destroy everything easily.

    NG++, though, takes all that gear and throws even more difficult enemies at you, with random buffs and much higher defense/offense capabilities.

    Unfortunately, the mechanics stay much the same, which coupled with a relatively small enemy list, leads to a bit of repetition. The mechanics also will get you killed if you don’t bother doing them, at least until your gear is up to snuff.

    Then you have stuff like Elder Scrolls or Fallout. Difficulty here depends not on player skill, but how quickly you can R1 everything to death before it gets to you. Difficulty in these games is just you doing less damage while enemies do much more, leading you to stealth gameplay which is really sub par. There are no major mechanics to deal with.

    I like the idea of more mechanics being added to games, because that’s where actual difficulty lies, not in abusing AI while on a rock and firing tons of arrows into your enemy.

  2. schadenfreude says:

    Silent Hill 2 (and maybe 3 as well?) had something in this vein: You had a difficulty setting for the combat, with the usual (and rather crappy) technique of nerfing the player and buffing the enemies; and a separate difficulty setting for the puzzles, which were all based on clues found on poems and whatnot, and setting it harder would make the texts in the poems increasingly complex and obtuse (of course, as well as changing the solution to the puzzle).

    You actually might be onto something with this.

  3. Nahztek-Shadowpath says:

    This would be a nice setting in challenging games that punish you for being sleepy.

    Sometimes I’m too tired to want to play something that I know will punish me for being in ‘relaxed’ mode. But I don’t want to lower difficulty because it makes it feel pointless.

    This would solve that. A game could retain its difficulty but remove some of the more hardcore punishing mechanics.

    Nice write up.

  4. Avatar eremHaNeoN says:

    The first System Shock game went even further – Combat Difficulty, Puzzle Difficulty, Mission Difficulty and Cyberspace Difficulty. Combat and Puzzles was for how hard enemies and puzzles were obviously (you could set them at 0 which I think turned enemies off? Maybe I have that wrong, I do know that at 0 for puzzles the puzzles are auto-solved). Mission Difficulty I’m unsure of except that at max difficulty (3) you had to complete the game within a time limit. Cyberspace is a separate part of the game, a game-within-the-game, so to speak. You float around with sort-of flight simulator-like controls/movement, finding upgrades and shooting monsters floating around some VR space. Completing cyberspace terminals also unlocked certain areas that had hidden items and such.

    For the absolute battiest example of a game handling NG, NG+, etc. difficulty I can think of, look up Amazing Princess Sarah. I won’t say any more about it, because I couldn’t do it justice without going into long rambling (trying to describe things in good detail succinctly – I need to work on that), but check out a playthrough of the game (I don’t if anyone has done a 100% LP of the game – if they have, that would showcase it quite well) or read the hg101 article about the game for some info about it.

    Anyway the idea you have in the article is a good one, though I don’t know about "complexity sliders" popping up mid-game. I don’t know if I’d have them for say a Souls-type game. I do think that incentive to play through Souls games all the way to NG+7 would be greater if there were more and more changes to actual enemy behavior and player mechanics. For games that don’t operate on a NG+, etc. format this would be interesting to see though.

  5. Avatar Forum_Pirate says:

    If I understand correctly, Nier changes actual story stuff in various NG cycles, so that makes sense and is more or less exempt from my complaints. It’s not a 40 hour tutorial one has to suffer though, it’s actually necessary for the narrative. Similar story with something like Chrono Trigger, where there are a dozen different endeings depending on when you kill the final boss and it’s really only possible to be strong enough to win eariler in the story in NG+. I don’t think I want either of those to become the norm, but they’re more or less fine.

    Souls games 3 and 5 are actually specifically the type of NG+ implementation I hate. There is literally no reason not to let me dive right into "hard mode" to get the more complicated bosses on my first playthough if that’s what I want to do. It basically functions as a difficulty setting, but you can’t get off easy mode without 40 hours of play time.

  6. Avatar skarekrow13 says:

    I like the concept. I think it could work well for some games. To be honest though, I’m not sure I’d trust developers to implement it well in all cases.

    Getting further into the rabbit hole, I don’t like the idea at all for Souls games (maybe Bloodborne it’d be OK). With Souls games, after 4 games with nearly the same online features, it’s pretty clear to me that they intend for players to be invaded or fight each other in some manner.

    Shutting off many of the features you suggest would lead to players going down the "easier" paths to be wholly unprepared for online play. Someone who shuts off "guard break" for instance in Dark Souls 1 would have been on a fast track to get slaughtered by someone like me and my Gargoyle Tail Ax. And that’s just one example.

    It would even impact co-op to some degree as players looking to be summoned wouldn’t know what to expect when they come into the host’s world.

    Souls games, if I’m being candid, have the most creative difficulty slider I’ve seen in games. Choosing a class sets initial difficulty. Selecting a gift adds to that. Summoning NPCs makes it easier. Summoning other players usually makes it even easier still. There’s an item to invite more obstacles into your world.

    One of my favorite difficulty sliders from other games is from inFamous. You play the tutorial level and then they recommend a difficulty setting for you.

    TL;DR: I don’t think all games even need sliders, but your proposed one can make sense for some games. Basically, I’m saying there’s a good many ways to go about it, and developers should feel empowered to be creative with it.

  7. Veroskan says:

    An interesting article and i believe that an increase in complexity is often the better solution to increase the difficulty than simply increasing numbers. Therefore i think that a good difficulty slider could mean complexity just as well. Of course the more individual you can costomize it the better, atleast in singleplayer where it is just your own experience anyway. Another nitpicky fact is that especially a sliders can cause problems for multiplayer matchmaking (aside from privat lobbies), but could be replaced with a few complexity prefixes aka difficulties(PVE) or matchmaking options(PVP). So i dare to say that many games just do their difficulties a bit dull.

  8. Avatar Reaperfan says:

    I feel like some games lately have been trying to do something similar, but not quite exactly, like this. Not in the sense that they’re adding options to reduce what the game throws at you, but that they’re adding options that lower the amount of execution a player needs to actually use to pull off mechanics.

    Off the top of my head the two that come to mind are Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and the upcoming Marvel vs Capcom Infinite. In MK8D, they’ve added an option where players can set themselves to auto-accelerate and auto-course-correct their carts. This makes it so that you don’t have to keep holding down the A button constantly and will turn your cart just enough to keep you from going off of the side of the course if it detects you’re driving (or were forced into) a path that would take you off the track. In MvCI there’s going to be an "auto-combo" option where a single button can simply be mashed and it will perform a preset standard combo that would normally take several different inputs and timings to pull off.

    Both of these systems make it so that with beginner-level skills you can perform on the level of an at least adequately-skilled player simply by there being less you have to manage. Rather than an option to reduce the complexity of the game itself, they give an option to reduce the complexity of inputs required to be successful. To be fair though, these systems do have a drawback in that the automated processes ultimately aren’t as effective as someone who actually learns the full systems classically (the auto-steering will actively turn you away from off-road shortcuts and the auto-combo both has no variety in terms of mixing up your options during or afterward and isn’t ever actually the MOST efficient combo for that character). But they do allow an overall reduction in mechanical difficulty, just from the player’s end rather than the game’s.

  9. SeyroonTheMage says:

    Thank you for this, Forum Pirate. Difficulty in games is a very interesting topic. I think if games must have difficulty sliders, your take is the way to go. I, however, don’t believe in difficulty sliders at all, on principle, though I suppose many will disagree with me. Maybe I will write my own article about that.

  10. Avatar Fallenangel700 says:

    These are all really good ideas. They wouldn’t work in every game, and they’d have to be tailor made for the game they are in, but this could be a great addition to the gaming world.

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